Taking Advantage of Your Summer Break – Revisit, Refresh, and Review

Handbooks. The mere mention of the company handbook typically sends HR professionals into a furious search for any project other than the company handbook. Sorry, I can’t work on the company handbook, I have to watch the paint dry in my office.

For this reason, beyond passing them off during perfunctory onboarding, handbooks typically get neglected. Updates and revisions typically fall to the bottom of the to-do list.

However, as many companies head into a summer slowdown, HR professionals are encouraged to: (1) revisit their company handbook, (2) review it for compliance, and (3) refresh it so it can be used as an effective communication tool both internally and externally.

  • Revisit – Companies are figuring out, partially through having to examine their discrimination and harassment policies due to the #MeToo movement, that a well-written handbook can be a valuable tool in the workplace. As one of my colleagues explains, it acts both as a sword and a shield for the employer. Handbooks may be used proactively to inform employees of expectations, benefits, etc. They may also be used defensively by the company before governmental agencies and courts. Handbooks take time, but revisiting and revising the company handbook this summer is time well spent. Trust us, next time you need to dust it off, you’ll be glad you did.
  • Refresh – Company handbooks are a great way to communicate to employees. In order to foster communication, many companies are abandoning their cumbersome 50+ page handbooks outlining every do and don’t of the employment relationship for sleeker, more concise handbooks that focus on encouraging employees to use their good judgment. As General Motors CEO, Mary Barra, explained in a recent interview, this shift can empower employees to step up to compliance instead of living down to the policy.As part of the refresh, consider whether or not the policies included are essential or non-essential. Essential provisions are those that require notice provisions by law and/or give employers an affirmative defense. Examples of mandatory policies include a company’s EEO policy, a harassment policy, FMLA policy (depending on size), etc. Everything else, such as dress code policies, absence policies, etc. are non-essential, since they are not legally required. HR professionals are encouraged to consider the audience and their specific workplace culture when assessing which non-essential policies to include.
  • Review – Between the headlines, the federal government’s deregulation, and state and local legislatures’ regulation, HR professionals are encouraged to review the handbook for compliance. Reoccurring headlines have put discrimination and harassment at the forefront of many HR professionals’ minds. The key is to make these policies straightforward, understandable, and enforceable. Many policies were likely affected by changes to state and federal law changes over the last few years. Along these lines, HR professionals should give particular attention to policies addressing leave, background checks, marijuana, guns, and social media. This is where your employment attorney can assist and save you time and money. A legal review of the handbook changes will ensure compliance with the ever-changing federal, state, and local employment laws. A small investment now for a legal review can save your company one hundred times over down the road.

Should you need assistance in any of these areas, we are certainly happy to assist you.

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